Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem was my first venture into the psychological minefield of the horror genre and left a deep, deep impression on me. It taught me that the world of Nintendo was not always the happy, colorful place I thought it to be. Turns out there was more to worry about than whether the “mushroom thing” would tell you that the Princess was actually in a totally different castle.
This game scarred me, but was also a huge influence in getting me to start looking at other genres.
I clearly remember how I was introduced to this game: I was fairly young, and my brother had received a GameCube for his birthday. This was in the days where I didn’t have any money and if it wasn’t my birthday or Christmas I had to rely on my Dad to buy video games. Of the two games that I remember, one was Medal of Honor: Frontline and the other was, well, scary as hell.
I want to make it clear that he did not condone my playing of this game, if he had known that I was playing this, at my age, he would have never left it anywhere near me. A few months after he purchased it and completed it, the GameCube somehow wound up in the “Playroom”.
This was basically just an empty loft that was safe enough to sit in and you had to climb an awkward ladder to get in there. For the short time I lived in that house, I spent most of my free-time in the loft playing games and one of those games was Eternal Darkness.
Eternal Darkness was a psychological thriller, developed by Silicon Knights and released on the GameCube. The core of the game plays like any survival horror (if you’ve played Silent Hill then you know what to expect) but with unique features such as the “sanity meter” and alignment system, adding a new twist to the familiar genre.
The main character is Alexandra Roivas who decides to investigate the Roivas family mansion in Rhode Island, after the mysterious murder of her Grandfather. As her investigation progresses, so does a story that spans many locations, timeframes and features 12 playable characters, including Alex.
Alex and the mansion act as a hub, between levels, which are played out as flashbacks throughout time. By finding scattered pages from a large book, known as the Tome of Eternal Darkness, the chapters are unlocked. Puzzles can’t be completed until the knowledge to complete them or the ability required has been revealed by the other characters, through the book.
The game also involves a solid combat system which involves weapons, many with limited ammo, melee attacks and a complex magic system which can be modified by the player. At the beginning of the game the player chooses one of three essences which define the alignment you will play as.
These three alignments all have a specific strength and weakness providing a rock, paper, scissors element to the game.
The magical abilities progress and become more complex as the game goes on, requiring the player to create them through a rune system. Although the system sounds fairly daunting, it’s pretty simple and still adds a fairly unique feature to the combat and puzzle-solving.
The most unique feature, however, is the “sanity meter”. As you play through each chapter, certain events cause this to diminish, such as when you are spotted by an enemy, while other events will restore it, such as a time-consuming “finishing move”. When the bar gets low, the character starts to hallucinate and once the bar is empty, the character’s health will be affected.
The sanity effects are one of the main selling points of the game and were a mechanic patented by Nintendo. Low level effects such as cries and whispers unsettle the player while higher level sanity effects begin to break the fourth wall.
The graphics were pretty good for the time, although the GameCube was still in its fairly early stages. The audio was excellent, however, and really added to the unsettling atmosphere. The use of audio effects really improved the sanity meter and didn’t just rely on visual features.
Why You Should Play It
This game is, by far, one of the greatest horror games I have ever played. In fact, it is one of my favorite games and had a resounding effect on me. I have never been able to forget this game and bought a GameCube recently with the sole intention of scaring myself again.
Silicon Knights were a great developer who went on to work with Konami on Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes and lent some of Eternal Darkness into the battle with Psycho Mantis.
There is little wrong with the game itself, however the controls were rather finicky and although the combat system isn’t the focus, it could have used slightly more development. The main problem that the developers made was releasing the game with Nintendo which contributed to its meager sales. At the time, I assumed the game would be a hit and well-played but even the nature in which we bought it, just an impulse buy from my Dad, symbolized its obscurity.
If you enjoy playing survival games, as well as critically acclaimed ones that not many people have played, you’ll get something fairly unique with Eternal Darkness.
It’s fairly dated now and a lot of games have had similar features since its release but if you want to play an atmospheric game with a lengthy plot, which scared the crap out of an 11 year old kid in his creepy loft, then this is the game to play. If you can get past the dated graphics and have a GameCube kicking around, then play a game that influenced many players and developers.
Do yourself a favor and subject yourself to the torments of Eternal Darkness. If you play this, you’ll notice the dust on it when compared with newer games but you’ll also find that it sticks with you long after completion, and there aren’t a lot of games that still do that.